The Justice Of God: Punishing or Restoring You?

Remember the Justice League of America? Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Green Lantern, Flash? 

From a very young age we have had the concept of justice deeply ingrained in us. A four year old knows its wrong for another boy to steal his GI Joe toy.

But if we don't allow the Bible to inform our hearts, we will miss what divine justice is all about! In fact, without understanding justice, we will not be able to accurately interpret scripture. Even worse, we will misunderstand the nature of God.

Matthew 12:18-21:

18 “Behold! My Servant whom I have chosen,
My Beloved in whom My soul is well pleased!
I will put My Spirit upon Him,
And He will declare justice to the Gentiles.
19 He will not quarrel nor cry out,
Nor will anyone hear His voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench,
Till He sends forth justice to victory;
21 And in His name Gentiles will trust.” 

Then, at the cross, and now, God is a God of justice. For those of us who believe in the gospel as good news and embrace grace as the primary definition of the way the gospel comes to us, the word justice seems a little bit scary. 

Our form of justice is not much different than the Pharisees. Heal on the Sabbath? That was against the Law!  We think of justice as pay back… it is a Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone movie where the bad guys get theirs at the end. People getting what they deserve. So it is hard to reconcile the fact that the God of justice is the God of grace. But listen to these passages about justice:

Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow. (Isaiah 1:17)
This is what the LORD says: “Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed.” (Jeremiah 21:12)

Notice HOW we administer justice according to the prophets: it is by encouraging and helping the oppressed. Justice comes through mercy.

This is what the Lord Almighty says, “Administer true justice: show mercy and compassion to one another.” (Zechariah 7:9)
Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you: he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice.” (Isaiah 30:18)

Justice is not an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. That is a legal form of justice that protected the offender from receiving an unequal judgment. But notice that Jesus said, "You have heard it said, 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I SAY TO YOU, 'Turn the other cheek.'" Divine justice is bringing compassion, grace, encouragement and mercy into a situation so that it changes people. Legal religious justice is punitive. The Law was based on punitive justice. Divine-gospel justice is redemptive! Justice is about setting things right again. Jesus Christ comes to bring justice by setting things back in order through compassion, encouragement, and mercy.

The quote in Matthew above is in the context of the man with the withered hand. Did he do something that caused it? Did he stick his hand in a cookie jar that he wasn’t supposed to? Was he stealing something and someone crushed it as punishment? Did he have his hand under a heavy cart trying to fix a wheel, when someone smacked the donkey and made it run over him? Was it his fault? Was it someone else’s? Did he lose his job because of it? Was he forced to quit working? 

The justice of Christ is to redemptively restore regardless of whose fault it was. If it was the man’s fault, the love of Christ will crush his guilt instead of his hand. If it was someone else’s fault, the love of Christ will come and take away his reason for anger. This is the justice of God. Not… I told you so. I told you to get your hand out of there. I told you not to steal. got what you deserved. 

 I mean, who pays attention to a bruised reed among the thousands by the lake shore? Jesus does! 

 A bruised reed he will not break and a smoking flax he will not quench. I mean, who pays attention to a bruised reed among the thousands by the lake shore? Jesus does! In the midst of the crowds, every person was important. Everyone has a story. Did you see as the crowds followed him, he healed every single one of them? A bruised reed, he would take into his hands and strengthen it, give it a chance to heal, to be restored. 

This is how he relates to you… when you have been bruised by life…when your heart has been broken… when pain has become your companion, Jesus isn’t going to discard you. When you can’t stand up straight emotionally, he is the one who is going to lift you up. When Peter is sinking into the water, when he should have kept his eyes on Jesus, Jesus doesn’t let him sink into the depths of the sea, he reaches down and lifts him back up. 

 A smoking flax he will not quench… that means he will not put out a candle that is flickering and about to go out. He blows on the flame, he doesn’t blow it out. God is not snuffing out your dreams, or trying to crush your spirit. He is always coming to you in justice, declaring the setting of things right, setting them back in order, through his truth, his love, his encouragement and compassion. 

I don’t encourage people to get angry with God or vent to God. That’s foolishness. On the other hand, I have had a few times in my life where I was emotionally spent, frustrated and hurting and I came to God in honesty, in my anger, telling him I don’t blame him, but I am angry and I don’t understand. And he didn’t get angry with me when I acted childish. He didn’t throw lightning bolts at me. He met my pain with grace and help. My brokenness wasn’t offensive to him. Justice came instead… the justice of helping me, encouraging me, pointing me and sustaining me. 

Which brings me to another point. God is never offended at you or by you. Never.  He is not offended at the victim or the perpetrator. God is love. Love is patient, love is kind. Love keeps no record of wrongs…does not take account of a wrong suffered. 

•    Jesus told Peter, you will deny me three times, he also said but I've prayed for you.
•    Judas came to betray him, and Jesus calls him friend. 
•    Jesus takes the ear that Peter cut off Malcus, and put it back onto the man who was taking him to be falsely accused and beaten. 
•    Jesus on the cross…Jesus who was beaten by people, rejected and despised by men…do you see what he says, “Father forgive them, they know not what they do!” 

The justice of God is not minimizing the gravity and suffering that sin brings, but the justice of God encounters sin with an overwhelming love designed to crush, not us, but to crush the motives of our hearts, to crush the guilt, to crush the reasons why we are sinning against him or others. 

Here is what Matthew is quoting from in Isaiah 42:

“Behold! My Servant whom I uphold, My Elect One in whom My soul delights! I have put My Spirit upon Him; (THE ULTIMATE JUSTICE LEAGUE...FATHER, SON, SPIRIT) He will bring forth justice to the Gentiles. 2 He will not cry out, nor raise His voice,
Nor cause His voice to be heard in the street. 3 A bruised reed He will not break,
And smoking flax He will not quench; He will bring forth justice for truth.
4 He will not fail nor be discouraged, Till He has established justice in the earth...

And he will not be discouraged until he brings grace to overwhelm the problem… he will not fail to make things right… he will bring restoration. This is the kingdom of God, the realm in which justice looks like love, grace and forgiveness. According to Paul we have been translated from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of his love! And YOU are children of the kingdom, sons of the light, the body of Christ in the earth through which Jesus is bringing forth justice.

Every time in India that we ministered healing, it was irrelevant the why behind it, justice had come to set things right with grace and love. It doesn’t matter to me that when we were in the HIV church, if the reason that they are HIV positive is because they were prostitutes or they were infected because of an adulterous spouse. God wants to make things right! When we held someone in our arms who was broken, we were ministering the comfort of God to broken hearts. That is justice. When we preached truth to people from the Word and out of our own testimonies, justice was flowing down like a river.

Martin Luther King Jr said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  


As we begin to glimpse the justice of God, it has huge implications for our understanding of scripture and the nature of God. You will begin to notice:

  • The Father never "punished" or abandoned Jesus on the cross.
  • The Law was based on an eye for an eye, but in the gospel God turns the other cheek. It was demonstrated by him forgiving FROM the cross.
  • You may need to re-visit your idea of what "hell" is.
  • When you read that "the judgment" was going to happen in their lifetime as a result of the final end of the Law, then you realize there is no coming wrath in our future. (2 Peter 4:5,7,17)
  • The New Covenant is not a revitalized version of the old. 
  • God is devoted to restoration and redemption and will not rest until each of us experience freedom from what is destroying our hearts. That means displaying kindness, patience, grace and love to us in our worst places so that our hearts will be won!

One of the best examples of this is seen in this video where a mass murderer is hardened, and cold before those who damn him to hell. But then one father of one of this many victims forgave him instead... and the hard heart broke. That is how the justice of God works... to change the heart not destroy the person...

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